Foreign Office documents on Himmler held at the Public Records Office, Kew. The boxed headings contain (1) the year and a brief description of the item relating to Himmler; (2) the FO file reference and (3) the Public Records Office file reference. Unless otherwise stated, telegrams are from British diplomatic missions to the Foreign Office.
A dispatch dated 22 October from Rome states that there has recently been a noticeable influx into Italy of distinguished German visitors, including Himmler, head of the SS. Himmler arrived in Rome on 19 October, ostensibly to attend an Italian police display. He and the other German visitors (General Milch, Under-Secretary of State for Air, Heydrich and Dalluege of the German police) were all met by the ‘Head of Government’. Himmler saw the Duce on 20 October and is reported to have had a ‘cordial’ conversation with him.
The Consul General in Danzig, reporting on 9 June on events in the city, says that Himmler, head of the SS, arrived there on 8 June. Accompanied by Gauleiter Forster, Himmler called on [the Swiss] Dr Burckhardt, League of Nations High Commissioner of the Free City of Danzig. During the call, Forster said they were about to issue a decree forbidding the formation of new parties and enquired what the Commissioner would do in such a case. Dr Burckhardt replied that the decree could not prohibit the formation of new parties; that was contrary to the constitution. They could only lay down conditions under which a party might be formed.
Dr Burckardt felt it would be ‘impolitic’ to oppose the measures which, the Consul-General writes, ‘he regards as an indication that Berlin, perhaps as a result of the conversations which he had there, has decided to postpone the total modification of the Constitution. He was confirmed in this view by his impression of Himmler’s attitude, who appeared to be well informed of the position’.
In a lengthy report dated 2 July 1937 on the Reichskriegertag of that year, the British Military Attaché describes a rally in Kassel of some 15,000 old comrades belonging to the Reichskriegerbund (Kyffhäuser). This was an association 180 years old which, in 1937, consisted largely of men who had served in the First World War. The theme of the rally was love of peace. It lasted several days and included impressive and moving pageants. The Reichskriegertag was attended by Himmler, head of the German secret police* and of the SS, to which latter body the Reichskriegerbund had become affiliated on 1 April. Himmler consequently played a prominent part in the proceedings and was treated as ‘overlord’ by the president of the association.
The army was represented by Field Marshal von Mackensen and others. The British Legion was represented by one Colonel Crosfield with a small contingent from England and the Legion’s Hamburg branch. They had a good reception and enjoyed a friendly atmosphere throughout. Wreaths were laid at the local German war memorial and also at the British war cemetery outside Kassel.
Important speeches were made on the last day. SS Gruppenführer Oberst Reinhard, as president of the Reichskriegerbund (Kyffhäusser), spoke of the benefits gained by affiliation with the SS (eg an increased vitality of the Association, a renewal of interest in shooting and the building of 150 new rifle ranges). Unlike the previous year, when he wore his old army uniform, Reinhard this year appeared in the uniform of his high honorary SS rank.
In his speech, Himmler related what National Socialism had done towards restoring Germany’s position and a proper respect towards her army and her old soldiers. He told the ex-soldiers that their greatest days had been the heroic times of twenty years before, ie 1917. But those days had been followed by others in which dirt had been flung over all the values which they had represented and embodied. Obedience, loyalty, comradeship and honour had been displaced by disobedience, disloyalty, class warfare and dishonour. From their ranks had come one soldier, a political soldier, their common Führer, Adolf Hitler. He had taken the values which the German fighting forces had made great as the basic values for the foundation of the new movement and the new Reich.
Of these virtues, in which he had trained the party and the men who reorganised it, loyalty was the first. Much could be forgiven but disloyalty never. Obedience was the second, the voluntary but unfailing obedience of the heart. Comradeship, unquestioning mutual support, was the third, and honour, the virtue which had sustained the German army for four years, was the fourth. The virtues cultivated by the SS and Reichskriegerbund were identical and formed a close bond between the two.
The only foreign speeches at this final parade were made by the British, the speakers being Colonel Crosfield for the British Legion and the International Commission of Front-line Fighters and one Captain Fitzroy Fyers, equerry to the Duke of Connaught. Both delivered their speeches in German. In his closing speech, the president of the Reichskriegerbund made particularly friendly references to Great Britain (the only foreign country he mentioned by name).
*An English translation of the Prussian Law of 1936, outlining the authority and duties of the State Secret Police, can be seen at
In an internal FO minute dated 2 October, Ridsdale records a telephone conversation with Broadbent of the Daily Mail. Broadbent spoke of the impressions brought back from a Hitler-Mussolini meeting by the journalist, Ward Price. Although asked by Broadbent to suppress Ward Price’s name in regard to these impressions, Ridsdale feels they are ‘so ominous that I feel they should be recorded’.
Ward Price considered that, as a result of Mussolini’s visit, the German-Italian relationship had become ‘virtually a close alliance’. 'For the first time', Broadbent is reported as saying, ‘Ward Price had returned to talk of the possibility of war. Goebbels, Hess and Himmler were already frankly prepared for it at any moment and were having an influence on Hitler who hitherto had refused to consider the mere possibility of war with Great Britain owing to his fear that Germany would be beaten.’ Ward Price was emphatic that Goebbels was particularly dangerous owing to his insidious method of influencing the Führer, eg, by getting the latter to commit himself to a course of action without allowing him to realise what he had done, and then presenting him with a fait-accompli.
An internal minute dated 14 December on German interest in the Middle East lists visits made by prominent Germans to Near Eastern countries during 1937. These include a 4-day visit to Libya by Himmler, Chief of German Police. Himmler flew there from Sicily on 4 December.
Further minuting describes the ‘remarkable number of prominent Germans’ visiting Egypt as ‘disquieting’. In a secret telegram of 18 December reporting this increased German interest, Cairo suggests the visits ‘represent a deeper purpose than purely commercial and journalistic activities and would seem to form part of a general plan of penetration and preparation for possible future developments’ in the Near Eastern countries. (The telegram mentions several of the visits but not that by Himmler to Libya.) ‘There can be but one explanation of this marked interest,’ Cairo writes, ‘Germany, as a result of the Rome-Berlin rapprochement, is anxious to know more at first hand of the regions which may play a vital part in any future war in which Italy and Germany may be engaged. With this end in view, some of her leading men are finding suitable excuses to visit Egypt and the Sudan to get first hand impressions for themselves. No doubt the Germans wish to get an idea of Italian strength and British weakness in the Near East before committing themselves to the warlike policies into which possibly Italy would perhaps like to draw them.’ (The British Embassy are very relieved when Goebbels cancels a planned visit to Egypt ‘for health reasons’.)
Telno 82 of 12 March from Vienna records that Himmler, Chief of the German Secret Police, and six other officials have arrived in the city. The Embassy have heard that all frontiers have been closed to Austrian nationals (sic) by the Austrian authorities. A proclamation by Hitler is to be broadcast at 12 noon. The telegram also mentions reports of units of the German army entering Austria.
On 26 May, whilst in London, HM Ambassador to Berlin, Sir Philip Gibbs, sends a note to the Secretary of State, Lord Halifax, describing parts of an interesting conversation which took place between himself and Himmler in Berlin on 29 April that year.
Himmler had asked why England was so hostile to Germany and seemed to think that war was inevitable whereas Germany was very anxious for friendship with England. Sir P Gibbs explained that ‘certain sections of opinion in England’ believed Hitler intended to play the role of Napoleon and invade or dominate other countries one by one until he was omnipotent in south-eastern Europe.
Himmler said this view was wrong and opposed to the central idea of National Socialism. ‘We are bound by the frame-work of our race ideas – which you think so mad’. He went on to explain that Germany did not want to incorporate Czechoslovakia or Poland into the German Reich, nor the Hungarians, Rumanians ‘or any other race’. Germany wanted to keep the German Volk within its own framework and likewise respected other peoples’ races. As for Napoleonic ideas of conquest, this was ridiculous. The Germans knew from history that to advance into other people’s territories would be a weakness that would destroy Germany. He hoped Sir Philip could persuade the English people that this was ‘the honest truth’.
Himmler saw no reason why England should begrudge Germany’s economic advantages in the Danubian countries. The British Empire, with the Ottawa Agreement, limited Germany’s trade possibilities. Surely Germany could seek commercial advantage elsewhere without being accused of ‘brutal domination’. It was necessary for Germany and would be good for the whole of Europe.
On the Sudeten Germans, Himmler said that at least the English, who give protection to their own kinfolk, would understand Germany’s sympathy with the 3½ million German folk who had been very badly treated and oppressed. In any case, what had England to do with the Sudeten Germans? Germany did not try to interfere in Ireland or Palestine. Sir P Gibbs understood from Himmler that Hitler would be satisfied with autonomy for the Sudeten Germans ‘on the Swiss model’.
Himmler had said Hitler was getting impatient with the continual hostility of the English press but then added ‘Nevertheless, every German wants friendship with England – as I want it’.
An internal Foreign Office minute of 11 November 1938 reports on personalities and events in Czechoslovakia. It describes how one Herr Kundt, leader of the Germans in Czechoslovakia, has founded a new Parliamentary Club, the object of which is ‘to take care of the interests of the Germans within the new frontiers etc etc’. The writer, Ashton-Gwatkin, feels sure that this club and Kundt ‘are in very close relations with the SS organisation in Germany’.
Prince Max of Baden, whom Ashton-Gwatkin has recently seen, said that the balance of political forces within Germany was incredibly obscure and difficult to analyse. As he saw it, there were three parties: Himmler’s party (ie the SS), the Army and then Goering who balanced between the Army and Himmler. Prince Max thought Ribbentrop’s only political backing was his friendship with Hitler but that Himmler’s power was in the ascendant owing to the perfection of his secret police organisation. He mentioned Herr Baest and one Professor Höhle or Böhle as being the heads of Himmler’s secret service. Prince Max said that Himmler’s policy aimed at friendship with Great Britain and that the British ought to keep in touch with him.
Ashton-Gwatkin also reports on these talks in a letter dated 9 November 1938 to Lord Runciman. Prince Max, he says, spoke of Herr Frank, deputy to the Sudetenland Reichskommissar, Henlein. He said Frank’s stock was very low. His job had been to see that an insurrection broke out throughout the Sudetenland immediately after Hitler’s speech in Nuremberg but, because there was no insurrection, Frank was regarded as a bungler. Prince Max went on to say that Himmler wanted to get rid of Frank and replace him by Schicketanz or someone else but Frank had countered by accusing Schicketanz of malpractice and, by means of Henlein’s influence on Göring, had retained his position. But, said Prince Max, Schicketanz had been sent to Reichenberg to act as Himmler’s eye on proceedings there besides carrying on his own private work as a lawyer.
In a minute dated 6 December 1938, Walters at the League of Nations comments on a letter dated 2 December he has received from Dr Burckhardt, League of Nations High Commissioner of the Free City of Danzig. Walters says that, if Dr Burckhardt goes, ‘we will lose one of our most valuable sources of information on Germany as well as purely Danzig questions’. Dr Burckhardt has written on the conflict between moderates and extremists in the Nazi Party, especially Goebbels’s anti-Jewish campaign. He says that Himmler’s chief assistant, Gruppenführer Wolff, made it quite clear to him that Himmler was on the side of the moderates and that he was now a moderating influence. Dr Burckhardt adds a note of caution, however, saying one must not overlook the possibility that Wolff was deliberately representing his chief as being ‘more on the side of the angels than was really the case’.
In a confidential minute dated 16 January 1939, Makins records impressions Dr Burckhardt had gained from his recent talks in Berlin.
Asked whether he thought Himmler should be included among the extremists or the moderates of the Nazis, Dr Burckhardt said Himmler had been very much disgusted by the anti-Semitic outrages. He said Himmler was ‘a very curious character’ and that both he and his wife were members of the Oxford Group.
It is the practice of British diplomatic missions to keep and update brief notes on the leading personalities in the country of their accreditation. Berlin’s 1938 Personality Report on Himmler, the last before the outbreak of war, reads as follows:
Himmler, Heinrich – Born Munich 1900. One of the first to join Hitler. Formed a small bodyguard for Hitler in 1922. Took part in 1923 ‘Putsch’. Subsequently Commander-in-Chief of the Schutz-Staffel (SS) throughout the Reich. 1930 Member of the Reichstag. Appointed police president of Munich March 1933. Appointed to command (sic) of the new Bavarian political police May 1933, and gradually to that of all other states. Took leading part in his joint capacity as head of SS and political police in events of the 30th June 1934*. Appointed to command the whole of the police force throughout Prussia and the Reich upon their unification in 1936.
* ie the purge of the SA (HHT)
In a letter dated 11 January 1939, Berlin (Sir G Olgivie Forbes) writes about Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler who, on 6 January, completed his tenth year as head of the SS, on occasion marked by the whole German press publishing laudatory articles about him. Sir G encloses a translation of one such article from the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung of 6 January and draws attention to the emphasis the article gives to the all-pervasive influence of the SS and the police whose special tasks include the safeguarding of the Nazi régime by stifling any other opinion. Sir G says the SS are the party’s corps d’élite whose principal purpose is to preserve the régime and internal security.
The writer also draws attention to the ‘exceptional power’ which Himmler personally wields in his capacity not only of Reichsführer SS but also as Chief of all the German police, although relations between the police and the SS are ‘far from friendly’. Sir G concludes by saying that, in assessing the chances of the various protagonists who may aspire to the higher positions in the event of an internal upheaval, it would be unwise to underestimate those of Himmler, despite the fact that he is by no means a popular figure with the people.
The summary of the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung article (Appendix 2) accompanying Sir G Ogilvie Forbes’ letter extols Himmler as an early member of the Party and his founding of the SS. It also refers to subsequent appointments, culminating in his appointment to Reichsführer of the SS in June 1936.
The article points out the necessity of the most important part of his work having to remain shrouded in secrecy. It refers as an example to the security measures taken at the time of the Anschluss against internal disturbances; also to the work of the SS and police in the Sudetenland.
The SS and police now try to suppress crime not only after but also before the deed. They also uncompromisingly apply the principle that, apart from the NSDAP, no other political ideology can be tolerated, not even in the smallest cell.
The SS is quoted as once saying: ‘We do not expect to be loved by too many people. All who have Germany’s welfare at heart will and must respect us, just as those who in any way and at any time face the Führer and the Nation with a bad conscience’.
The article says one finds SS-men everywhere and that they hold in their hands the key to the main positions in the State, in industry and in the cultural life of the country, as leaders, as adjutants or in similar positions.
It mentions that, as early as 1931, Himmler prescribed the necessity of SS-men having to obtain permission to marry ‘according to the principles of race and character’.
The article concludes by saying that, in ten years, Himmler has created out of the SS and police an instrument in Adolf Hitler’s hand ‘of which the rest of the world should take particular note’.
Telno 99 of 16 March 1939 from Prague records that Hitler, accompanied by General Keitel, Ribbentrop, Lt-General Stulpnagel, von Lammers, Dietrich, Stuckart and Himmler, arrived in the city the previous evening. Frick was expected later. No further details are given.
Telno 66 of 28 June from Danzig (Shepherd) describes the situation in that city. There is much activity in preparation for a supposed Polish attack. This includes the arrival of nearly one thousand SS-men from East Prussia and the unannounced arrival on 25 June 1939 of a number of high-ranking SS officers from Germany, ostensibly for sporting contests with the local SS. Shepherd says that, although the senate categorically denied to him the rumour that Himmler was among them, he had heard that Dr Böttcher had admitted to the High Commissioner that Himmler was in Danzig incognito.
In telno 1037 of 11 October 1939, Rome (Sir Percy Loraine) say they believe Himmler is at Lake Como and that the object of the visit is to discuss the removal of the German-speaking population from Alto Adige in the South Tyrol to the Reich. In a follow-up letter of the same date, Sir P says that departures of German-speaking population from Alto Adige are underway and that others would soon follow. Apparently the German-speaking population can choose whether to return to the Reich or remain in Italy. (He subsequently confirms in telno 340 of 16 October that this was indeed the reason for Himmler’s visit. He adds that Count Ciano did not disguise his anxiety to get as many persons of German origin as possible out of Italy and to do so quickly.)
Attached to a record of a conversation of 10 July with the Portuguese Ambassador, Dr Monteiro, on the views of Dr Salazar is a copy of a telegram from Preston in Kovko, Lithuania, dated 17 July 1940, in which Preston states inter alia that ‘Himmler is deprived of speech, having been shot through the mouth in an attempt on his life.’
Dispatches from Spain report that Himmler visited Spain for a few days, arriving on 19 October. He was accompanied by General Wolf, Chief of General Staff, plus five others. He arrived at Irun and proceeded to Burgos. An official reception was held in his honour in Madrid on 20 October. He was received at the Palace of the Prado by General Franco soon after his arrival and then attended a bullfight (spoilt by rain). On 21 October he visited El Escorial, where he laid a wreath on the tomb of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, and Toledo.
Great prominence was given to the various junketings by the Madrid press which was anxious to describe to its readers in detail every item on the programme and to make out that Himmler was being given as cordial and magnificent a welcome as Spain could provide. But there were no signs of popular – as distinct from official – enthusiasm.
Himmler visited Barcelona on 23 October, where he spent most of his time at official functions, and flew back to Berlin the next day. The British Consul General reported that there was very little warmth in the reception accorded to Himmler by the town.
A ‘reliable informant’ in Barcelona stated that the purpose of the visit was to improve the counter espionage work of the Gestapo in Spain and also to reorganise the Spanish secret police engaged in the repression of subversive activity, particularly Catalan separatists whom the Spanish authorities were convinced were directed from Great Britain.
Telno 931 of 1 March 1941 from Washington describes a report from Bucharest of a conversation with an informant (unnamed) about the policy of Göring and Ribbentrop towards Russia. The report states that Göring and the army had recently scored an important victory over Himmler and the Party. Göring had been able to insist that 120,000 SS-men who had hitherto been used for internal security purposes should be employed as parachute troops and they were now being given four months’ training at Königsberg, Tilsit and Danzig. However, the first internal comment written on the file copy of this telegram (name illegible) expresses the view that this news exaggerated.
Stockholm telno 446 of 6 December 1940 describes conditions in Germany and the Sudetenland as recounted by an official from the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
The report first describes a hunting trip in Germany where the Swedes were guests of the Germans – obviously for propaganda purposes. During the first day’s shoot, one of the Swedes, M. Alexis Aminoff, found himself sitting in a car with Himmler without realising who he was. The conversation turned upon Sweden and Himmler said that the Germans and the Swedes liked each other and ought to get along well together, particularly as there had been so many cases of successful marriages between the two nationalities, eg Göring’s. He complained, however, that the Swedish press was poisoning relations.
M. Aminoff pointed out that Sweden had a free press and it was not the custom there to control the press in the manner that Germany did, ie by the Gestapo. Himmler then declared that he was the head of the Gestapo. Quickly changing the subject, Aminoff said he could hardly believe this since Himmler had no bodyguard. Himmler replied that he did not need a bodyguard inside Germany where the country was absolutely united behind the Führer. He also said that German policy was aimed at a gradual restoration of freedom within Germany but he emphasised that this had to be done in stages. Meanwhile there must be strict discipline.
Under cover of a dispatch dated 15 January 1941, Madrid forwards a memorandum from an unnamed informant whom they had previously found to be well informed. The memo, written from San Sebastian and dated 2 January 1941, says that Himmler’s visit to Spain ‘infuriated and frightened many people’. The informant goes on to say that, to celebrate Himmler’s visit, an open-air mass was held which was packed with German soldiers. ‘Their behaviour was very bad and did not endear them. They talked loudly all the time and took photographs of the ceremony and of the people present.’ Madrid’s informant says that great efforts were made by the local Falange to whip up a large attendance - but without success.
Lisbon telno 415 of 18 August 1942 (copied to Finland) says that, according to the American Embassy in Helsingfors, Himmler stayed in that city (at the Hotel Societetshuset) on 29-30 July, perhaps for a little longer. He was entertained to dinner by Prime Minister Rangell and the Governor of the Province of Helenius. Apparently he decorated Marshall Mannerheim with the Grand Cross of Liberty. No other details on file.
Lisbon telno 397 of 7 October contains Combined Intelligence Report No 33. This mentions inter alia that a report purporting that Himmler had been executed on Hitler’s orders continued to persist and had been repeated by a Turk who had arrived from Germany at the end of September and who was stated to be in touch with ‘authoritative circles’ in that country. The informant himself (not named) has no doubt about the truth of the report.
In an internal minute of 11 May 1944, the writer (Harrison) records that one D Wilson attended an FO meeting the previous week to consider the compilation of a list of Germans whose fate would have to be decided by ‘a political division of the United Nations’. The list contains the names of 33 top Nazis with a short note on each. Himmler is described as ‘Reichsleiter, Minister of the Interior, Chief of the German Police, Reich leader of the SS, Member of the Cabinet.’
The list (not on file) is divided into two: the first part contains the names of those who should definitely be arraigned; the second part is a list of those about whom there ‘may be some doubt’ whether they should be included or not. Himmler is in the first list.
This document contains several curricula vitae on certain Nazi leaders prepared by the Political Warfare Executive, including this one on Himmler (Appendix 3).
Political Warfare Executive’s CV on Göring, dated 27 April 1945, says that his influence had gradually decreased during the War and that it was now Himmler who, if not officially, was at least the de facto second to Hitler. There had been rumours, the report says, of Himmler’s attempt to set up an SS airforce. Göring had managed to resist this but, after the attempted Putsch in July 1944, one of Germany’s remaining air fleets (Luftflotte ‘Reich’) was put at the disposal of Himmler, the newly appointed Commander in Chief of the Home Army.
Political memorandum Germany No 12 of 12 February 1945 from Stockholm reports the visit to Stockholm of Himmler’s masseur, Kessler*. An Estonian by birth who at an early age acquired Finnish nationality, Kessler had been practising in Holland when the War broke out. At first interned, he was later released and taken over by some big Nazis as their masseur. In this way he got to know Himmler and Hitler. (He acquired some notoriety for effecting a cure for impotence by treating the glands of the throat. (It appears that this treatment was not necessary in the case of Himmler.)
Kessler claims to have secured the release of two thousand people from concentration camps. He is reported in the Stockholm press to have said that Himmler was grateful to him for his pain-relieving therapy and had gradually become completely dependent upon Kessler’s treatment. ‘I only needed to ask him to release any person nominated by me whereby I was able to rescue many thousands from the hands of the Gestapo.’
The memorandum goes on to say that another practitioner who treated Himmler was a nerve specialist called Dr Felix Kersten who describes Himmler as ‘always very friendly to me’. It was not always easy to obtain his assent to the release of ‘people suggested by me’ from concentration camps. Nevertheless, although often finding strong opposition from Himmler’s ‘collaborators’, Kersten says he usually managed to achieve his aim. A press report claims that, making use of his ‘great influence’ with Himmler, Kersten not only succeeded in preventing the deportation of 2,500 Finnish Jews to Germany, but also secured the release of thousands of Germans, Dutch, Danes, Norwegians, Swedes, Frenchmen and even Russians from concentration camps. Among them were even people who had been sentenced to death. Kersten’s influence with Himmler led to him being asked for intervention by ministers, bishops etc.
Stockholm comment that this ‘fantastic’ report on Dr Kersten shows how an ingenious medical practitioner may succeed with even the most terrifying person.
*This is almost certainly a case of confusion. Kessler and Kersten are very likely the same person, a point also made by one reader in the Foreign Office who goes on to say that the memorandum’s statement that Kersten does not sympathise with the Nazis cannot be true since he is known to Sir V Malett (head of the British Legation in Stockholm) as a Nazi. (HHT)
Stockholm telno 509 of 25 March reports that, before leaving for Germany, Kersten had spoken to Herbert Storch, Stockholm representative of the World Jewish Congress, and undertook while in Germany to negotiate the release of individual Jews and Jews in general on his behalf. Storch later gave the British Legation in Stockholm an account of Kersten’s negotiations with Himmler.
Himmler first said he would consider releasing all Jews remaining ‘in German hands’ on condition that Allied bombing ceased for at least a fortnight. Kersten replied that the Allies would never agree to such a proposal and, if Himmler wished to give proof of his sincerity to help those suffering human beings, he should immediately send 20,000 Jews to Switzerland or Sweden. Himmler replied that Hitler had forbidden any further releases of Jews. Kersten said that, after further discussion, ‘Himmler secured a promise from Hitler that the extermination of the Jews should cease’. He apparently also authorised Kersten to invite Storch to Germany for ‘negotiations’.
A letter dated 27 March 1945 from the Stockholm office of the World Jewish Congress to its London office says that, in addition to providing Kersten with a copy of the letter from the Orthodox Rabbis of the United States of America and Canada, Himmler also asked him to procure certain press cuttings and forward these to him. Armed with these, the writer says, Himmler hoped to be able to obtain permission from Hitler for further releases
An hand-written minute by P Mason of 28 March, referring to Stockholm telnos 509, 510 and 511, sums up the situation thus: Kersten has just returned to Stockholm with a letter from Himmler representing the outcome of negotiations for the release of Jews. Himmler has apparently agreed to the release of 10,000 Jews to Switzerland or Sweden and wants Storch, representative of the World Jewish Congress, to go to Berlin to arrange the matter. The Swedish Government have agreed to receive the Jews and to help get them there.
The minute goes on to say it is clear the Nazis are acting in the hope of
- establishing an alibi, for Himmler at any rate, though there are suggestions that Hitler too is ‘in it’ by promising to halt exterminating the Jews;
- probably using Jews released to smuggle currency and other matters out of Germany;
- possibly securing better treatment for the German people.
The minute floats its way up to the Secretary of State who agrees it would be a mistake for HMG to pass on messages to the Swedish Government exhorting them to receive refugees released by the Germans and to intervene on behalf of Jews in Germany. The SoS instructs that a telegram be sent to Stockholm saying HMG are not prepared to transmit the message since the proposal emanates from Himmler.
In a top-secret letter dated 27 March Stockholm forwards photostats of four documents:
- an aide-mémoire prepared by Dr Kersten and Herbert Storch as the basis for their negotiations with the German authorities for the release of Jews (Appendix 4);
- a letter from Himmler to Kersten saying that he is ready at all times to help Kersten in his humanitarian work (Appendix 5);
- a letter from SS-Standartenführer Brandt to Kersten saying that his various proposals to Himmler are under consideration and that he will receive an answer very soon (Appendix 6);
- part of a letter to Himmler from the Montreux office of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States of America and Canada which Himmler gave to Kersten as proof of how much his work for the Jews was appreciated in the United States (Appendix 7).
Secret telno 583 of 6 April from Stockholm reports on the situation in Germany and on attitudes of Hitler, Ribbentrop and Himmler (as told to Sir V Mallet in Stockholm by the Acting Secretary General). Hitler and Ribbentrop are ‘still in the clouds’, Ribbentrop believing that the Western Allies would not be so stupid as to hand Europe over to Bolshevism. Himmler, however, ‘has both feet firmly on the ground’ and is busy trying to prove how decently he is behaving by
- assisting the Swedes and Swiss in their efforts to rescue Jews, Norwegians etc;
- giving better food and treatment to Polish prisoners and women still in German hands;
- ‘playing up to the Vatican and Catholic opinion’ by releasing all priests still in concentrations camps.
The report goes on to say that a member of the German Legation (in Stockholm) had been in Germany recently where he had had a discussion with Schellenberg (Himmler’s chief adviser on foreign affairs) on the release of all Norwegians and Danes. As a result, some 320 sick and old Norwegians were due to arrive in Sweden on 10 April. Himmler had declared he would readily have sent all the Norwegians back but felt that, if he had included able-bodied men, these would immediately be put into the army and Sweden might then choose to break off relations with Germany. Schellenberg said Himmler thought it would be a tragedy if all Scandinavians became Bolsheviks.
He went on to discuss the best way to evacuate Norway. He assumed the Swedes would not object to German troops transiting through Sweden on their way back to Germany so was devising a plan to withdraw them to southern Norway in the hope that the Norwegian Government in London would establish themselves in northern Norway and thus prevent the setting up of a Lublin-type of government there. The Acting Secretary General said that this suggestion seemed to be bordering on treason by Himmler against Hitler and his entourage.
A top secret telegram from Stockholm dated 20 April relates how Kleist has arrived in Stockholm and, on 11 April and had spoken to officials of the US Legation who had previously been contacted by Hesse. Kleist spoke to them as one who also had close contact with leading personalities in Germany and was familiar with all matters of highest policy. Among the points to emerge from his conversation are the following:
- although there might be difference between Himmler and Ribbentrop on points of detail, which at one time were serious, they were now completely at one on Germany’s overall policy;
- that both Himmler and Ribbentrop were anxious to alleviate the lot of the Jews but Hitler had forbidden releases except with his express consent and on condition that Germany received something in return. After Hesse’s visit, Kleist, Ribbentrop and Himmler were all agreed that quid pro quo could be the humanising of the war. On the other hand, if some scheme for relieving bombed out Germans by the distribution of relief parcels under the auspices of the Swedish Red Cross could be arranged, it would be much appreciated. If in a moment of frenzy Hitler ordered a massacre of the Jews, Himmler, who would have to execute his order, would refuse and he would be backed up by Ribbentrop’;
The Americans infer from all this that certain Germans, though not necessarily Himmler or Ribbentrop, are endeavouring to establish some form of contact with the Allies to let them know there are persons in Germany who would be prepared to collaborate with them in the construction of a new Germany.
Stockholm’s top-secret dispatch no 210 of 26 April encloses a translation of a confidential report dated 24 April from one Norbert Masur, a member of the World Jewish Organisation, on his recent visit to Germany, accompanied by Kersten, to negotiate with Himmler for the release of certain Jews and others imprisoned in Germany. (Appendix 8).
Masur first met Schellenberg at Dr Kersten’s estate outside Berlin. Schellenberg agreed to all his demands and promised to support them when submitting them to Himmler. Masur then met Himmler himself during the night of 20-21 April.
In the main, all his demands were agreed to, including the fact that no Jews would be shot, but all subject to the condition that the negotiations with Himmler should remain secret. Hitler was understood still to be against the release of Jews and would put a stop to any releases if he came to hear of them, eg via the foreign press.
Masur and Kersten later met Schellenberg’s associate, Franz Göring, who was most closely associated with the evacuations to Sweden and Switzerland. He arranged to have one thousand women transported from Ravensbrück to Sweden. If this release succeeded, more women could be released in the same way.
Masur then mentions in his report one feature to which Himmler attached particular importance. Himmler said that the surrender to the Allies of the concentration camps at Bergen-Belsen and Buchenwald had been ill-rewarded by press reports of conditions in the camps which he described as ‘Greuelmärchen’. This made him doubtful that he should continue on this course. Masur said it could not be denied that ‘gross misdeeds’ had been committed and a free press could not be silenced. He feared this might stimulate Himmler into eliminating all traces by the evacuation or extermination of entire camps instead of handing them over to the Allies. Later in the day, Masur saw columns of prisoners marching north from the concentration camp at Oranienburg.
Masur said ‘Himmler’s word is, of course, nothing to reply on’. During his conversations, he told many untruths. However, Masur was convinced he was genuine in wanting to do something but his mind was fixed on the impending catastrophe. Masur thought it not inconceivable that, if Nazism collapsed, Himmler or some other Nazi leaders might order the murder of all Jews. It was therefore vital to evacuate as many of them as possible.
Summing up, Masur says the negotiations with Schellenberg, Franc Göring and Himmler’s secretary, Dr Brandt, had been ‘very valuable’. He describes his interlocutors as ‘young men who want to live’ and, aware that any violence against Jews would be a crime against the Germany of the future, would sabotage any orders of violence emanating from Himmler.
In top-secret telno 607 of 28 March, Berne say that the Swiss I.S. has no knowledge of the rumoured transfer of Himmler’s headquarters to Bregenz. They think it is highly unlikely because Bregenz is not central enough. The story may have arisen from the fact that Dr Burckhardt, in recent negotiations, met Himmler’s representative in Bregenz.
Stockholm telno 603 of 10 April reports that Bernadotte had returned on 9 April from Germany where he saw Himmler. Bernadotte said Himmler was under no illusion as to the completeness of the German disaster. He gave Bernadotte the impression of wanting to arrange an orderly capitulation but considered himself bound by loyalty to Hitler who was still in complete control of the country and who still refused to contemplate any kind of surrender.
Stockholm telno 627 of 13 April gives more detail of Count Bernadotte’s meeting with Himmler. Contrary to when Bernadotte saw him three weeks before, Himmler admitted this time that all was up. When Bernadotte said Himmler’s loyalty to the German people was more important than that to Hitler, Himmler replied that he owed everything to the Führer and could not desert him at the end. Bernadotte said Himmler did not look in the least bit flustered but gave the impression of being completely sane. He even had time to interest himself in a book on runic inscriptions which had always been a hobby of his.
Himmler told Bernadotte he knew he was No 1 on the Allies’ list of war criminals. Bernadotte replied it was only natural that he should be considered a war criminal because he was head of the Gestapo whose appalling cruelties had been proved. Himmler said he knew people outside Germany considered him brutal but in fact he disliked cruelty and an entirely false character had been built up abroad about him. Bernadotte repeated that he must be judged by the actions of his subordinates. Himmler claimed that those acts were greatly exaggerated whereupon Bernadotte mentioned specific and proved cases of murder by the Gestapo, including the murder of 200 Jews in a particular hospital. Himmler denied that this murder had taken place but Bernadotte insisted and the next day, when Himmler saw him again, Himmler had the honesty to tell him that, on making enquiries, he regretted to state that the story turned out to be true. Himmler complained that he would have liked to have evacuated the Jews from Germany, and actually the deportation of 1,200 Jews to Switzerland had been arranged through him, but unfortunately publication of the facts in the Swiss press had come to Hitler’s notice and resulted in the Führer giving strict orders against any repetition.
Bernadotte said that Kaltenbrunner, who was extremely powerful, was universally regarded as the worst kind of brute and murderer. ‘Even Himmler appears to be afraid of him’ and had instructed the much more decent and humane Schellenberg to warn Bernadotte that Kaltenbrunner was a most dangerous man and had made arrangements to tap all telephones used by Bernadotte in Germany.
Bernadotte said that, though completely insane and almost entirely preoccupied with architectural plans for rebuilding German cities, Hitler still retained his mysterious prestige, ‘even with such hard-headed men as Himmler’.
Commenting on this, Harrison (German Department, FO) says ‘Count Bernadotte is no doubt reflecting on the impression which the Germans generally and Himmler in particular wish to have passed on to the allies. Himmler certainly seems busy trying to whitewash himself’.
Stockholm telno 711 of 25 April (copied in advance to the Prime Minister and Chiefs of Staff) gives news of Himmler’s offer of German capitulation to the Western Allies. Sir Victor Malett (head of British Legation in Stockholm) says he and his US colleague were summoned t the Foreign Ministry at 23.00 hours on 24 April and there met Boheman (?) and Count Bernadotte of the Swedish Red Cross. Count Bernadotte had just returned from Germany and said that, owing to Hitler’s illness, Himmler was willing to meet General Eisenhower with a view to capitulating on the whole of the western front, though not on the eastern front.
Count Bernadotte reported that Himmler was on the eastern front but had agreed to meet him in Lübeck. Though tired and admitting that Germany was finished, Himmler was still calm and coherent.
Himmler had said Hitler was so ill that he might already be dead, or would be so within two days. General Schellenberg of Himmler’s staff said he was suffering from haemorrhage of the brain. Himmler said that, while Hitler was still active, he would not have been able to take the step he now proposed but, as Hitler was ‘finished’, he was now in a position of full authority to act. He thereupon asked Bernadotte to convey to the Swedish Government his request that they help him to meet General Eisenhower in order to arrange capitulation on the whole western front. Bernadotte replied that such a meeting was not necessary as he could simply order his troops to surrender. He added that he was not willing to forward Himmler’s request to the Swedish Government unless Norway and Denmark were included in the capitulation. If this were the case, there might be some point in a meeting because special arrangements would have to be made regarding how and to whom the Germans would lay down their arms. Himmler replied that he would be prepared to order German troops in Denmark and Norway to surrender either to British, American or Swedish troops.
Himmler hoped to continue resistance on the eastern front, at least for a time. Bernadotte told him this was scarcely possible in practice and would not be acceptable to the Allies. Himmler said he hoped for instance that the Western allies rather than the Russians would be first to enter Mecklenburg in order to save the civilian population.
Bernadotte went on to tell the British and US heads of mission that Schellenberg was now in Flensburg, near the Danish border, eagerly waiting to hear something that he could immediately pass on to Himmler. Bernadotte said that, if nothing happened, there would be a lot of unnecessary suffering and loss of human life. The British and American heads of mission felt that Himmler’s refusal to order surrender on the eastern front looked like a last attempt to sow discord between the Western Allies and Russia. However, the Swedish Foreign Minister suggested that, if the Germans capitulated on the whole of the western front and in Norway and Denmark, this had to be of great advantage to all the Allies, including the Russians, and would in fact lead to early capitulation. The Foreign Minister suggested that the information should at least be passed on to the British and American government who would be at liberty to pass it on to the Soviet Government which the Swedes could not do since they had been asked to pass the information to the Western Allies only.
The War Cabinet met on 25 April to consider Stockholm’s telno 711 conveying Himmler’s offer of unconditional surrender. The Cabinet endorsed Churchill’s proposal that he inform Stalin without delay and that he inform President Truman by telephone. The Cabinet believed Himmler was purporting to act on behalf of the German government. They thought there was no occasion for him to meet Eisenhower, as he had suggested; indeed, it would be improper that such a proposal should be discussed with a military commander in the field.
In a note dated 25 April 1945, Churchill records that he spoke to President Truman who knew nothing of the Stockholm discussion. Truman agreed that the surrender should be unconditional and made simultaneously to the three major powers. Churchill then read to Truman a telegram he had sent to Stalin who had also expressed strong agreement with this. In that telegram, Churchill told Stalin that HMG felt Himmler should be told that German forces should surrender themselves to Allied troops or representatives on the spot. The messages were passed to Count Bernadotte for onward transmission to Himmler.
On 26 April Stalin replies by secret message to Churchill saying he considered the Prime Minister’s proposal to demand unconditional surrender by the Germans on all fronts, including the Soviet one ‘the only correct one’. He had sent a similar message to Truman.
Internal FO minute of 28 April by Harrison also refers to the Reuters report and covers the text of a statement issued at 15.00 on 28 April 1945 by No 10. This says:
‘It has been reported by Reuters that unconditional surrender was offered by Himmler to Britain and the United States only. Further that Britain and the United States have replied saying that they will not accept unconditional surrender except on behalf of all the Allies, including Russia. No doubt at a time like this all kinds of reports of proposals for German surrender from various parts of the German Reich are rife, as these are in harmony with the enemy’s desperate situation.
HM Government have no information to give about any of them at this moment. But it must be emphasised that only unconditional surrender to the three major Powers will be entertained, and that the closest accord prevails between the three Powers’.
(Although Churchill received news of Himmler’s peace proposals on 25 April and discussed them with the War Cabinet that same day, No 10’s carefully worded statement of 28 April, that the Government had ‘no information to give about any of them at this moment’, appears to suggest no knowledge of Himmler’s proposals; on the other hand it could also be taken to mean that, while aware of them, the Government are not yet in a position to divulge any information on them.)
Telno 749 of 29 April from Stockholm quotes a local press announcement of that day which stated that ‘According to the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Count Folke Bernadotte brought an oral message from Himmler which was communicated via the Ministry and British and American Ministers to the Addressees’.
Immediate telno 1611 of 29 April from Moscow quotes a Tass report appearing in that day’s press that, on 28 April, Reuters published a statement by the Prime Minister’s office in which Himmler is said to have made an offer of unconditional surrender to Great Britain and the United States. According to the statement, the two allied governments had replied that they would only accept unconditional surrender to all three Allies, including the Soviet Union. The telegram concludes by saying that Tass had been authorised to say the statement was confirmed by ‘responsible Soviet circles’.
Press reports about Count Bernadotte conveying an offer from Himmler for unconditional surrender to Great Britain and the United States cause a certain fluttering in European dovecotes. The Swedes think the British press is being unfair in their reports whereas the FO consider Count Bernadotte to be having a marvellous press in the United Kingdom without any serious criticism of him or of the part played by the Swedish government. The Russians have to be assured in a personal message from Churchill to Stalin that the Swedes are not playing a double game. And the French Ambassador, Massigli, calls on the Secretary of State for further information. The Secretary of State assures him that there is no intention to exclude France and that the reference in No 10’s communiqué to the three major powers was made simply because the British government believed it to be a German attempt to cause dissension between Russia and the Anglo-Americans. Naturally, M. Massigli is told, if surrender took place, France would sign with the other three Allies. This seems to satisfy M. Massigli. However, as talks grow of the increasing likelihood of German surrender, the Secretary of State minutes on 30 April 1945 that Massigli called again ‘with a most earnest request’ that the French government be informed in advance of the publication of any events ‘such as the surrender offer of Himmler or any other surrender offer, and that they should not be left to read of it in the newspapers’.
Commenting on 2 May on the death of Hitler, Harrison (German Department, FO) mentions Himmler’s statement that Hitler had had a stroke and would be dead in a couple of days. Harrison cautions against assuming Himmler and Doenitz would be at loggerheads. He says Himmler’s offer of capitulation to the Western allies included a proviso that fighting against Russia would continue. (Doenitz, in his Tagesordnung, says that his own first task is to ‘save the German people from annihilation by the advancing Bolshevist enemy … as long as the attainment of this aim is being hindered by the British and Americans, we shall have to continue to defend ourselves against them … the Anglo-Americans will then continue the war no longer for their own peoples but only to further the spread of Bolshevism in Europe’).
Harrison says that, while Ribbentrop and Goebbels (if still alive) were ‘likely to favour coming to terms with the Russians’, it was difficult for Doenitz and Himmler, in view of what they had said, to offer surrender to the Russians.
In an earlier top secret minute of the same day, Creswell says there is no reason to believe that Doenitz, Kesselring and Himmler are in any way at cross-purposes as regards continued resistance against Russia. Both the others knew of Himmler’s peace offer, as also did General Boeger, Himmler’s deputy in the south as Commander in Chief Home Army. After the leakage of the Bernadotte peace feelers, Himmler’s loss of face obviously made it impossible for him to take over from Hitler, ‘but we know that he is at one with Doenitz in determination to fight Russia to the end’.
Harrison goes on to say one cannot be sure of Himmler’s position under Doenitz until the latter makes some declaration of support.
US State Department Press Release No. 409 of 2 May 1945 gives a chronological account of Himmler’s surrender offer (Appendix 9).
Secret telno 809 of 5 May from Stockholm reports that Himmler is thought still to be with Doenitz that evening. However, they are not expected to go to Norway but rather to fly to the south.
Stockholm telno 18 of 9 May concerning the whereabouts of Goering and Hitler’s death quotes Schellenberg as saying, via Bernadotte, that the publicity given to the latter’s conversations with Himmler (about capitulation to the Western allies) had ‘very definitely hastened the end by making certain of the succession of Doenitz instead of Himmler’.
The 3 May issue of The Daily Telegraph quotes an announcement issuing that day from General Eisenhower’s headquarters which states inter alia that Count Bernadotte and Himmler met at Luebeck on 28 April and that Himmler said that Germany was finished. He and Schellenberg also said that Hitler was so ill with a brain haemorrhage that he might already be dead. This, the statement goes on to say, contradicts the subsequent statement by Doenitz that Hitler had ‘met a hero’s death at his post’.
In answer to a Parliamentary Question dated 16 May from Commander Locker-Lampson, asking if the Prime Minister has any information on the whereabouts of Himmler, Churchill says that he does not, but that he expects Himmler will ‘turn up somewhere in this world or the next, and will be dealt with by the appropriate authority’. He adds that ‘the latter would be more convenient to HMG’. (On the file, someone has written on 15 May: ‘Now dead – in every sense!’)
Moscow telno 2078 of 25 May reports that all newspapers that day are reporting the arrests of Himmler and Streicher. (On the file cover, someone in the FO has commented that ‘Himmler’s arrest was reported no sooner than his death. I hope the Russian papers reported the latter event too.’)
Under cover of a letter dated 17 June to Refugee Department in the Foreign Office, Stockholm enclose a copy of a letter from Himmler (Appendix 10) addressed to four SS officers in charge of concentration camps concerning the treatment of Jews. Stockholm describe the letter as ‘a piece of repulsive hypocrisy’ but feel it may be of historical interest.
In the letter, dated 10 March 1945, Himmler says it has come to his notice that typhus has broken out among the Jewish inmates of Bergen-Belsen*. He issues instructions that all possible measures be taken to eradicate the outbreak, saying that no epidemic can be allowed to break out in Germany. Neither the deployment of doctors nor medication are to be spared, he says, reminding the recipients of his letter that the prisoners are all under his own personal protection.
This letter had been copied to Dr Kersten for information by Himmler’s adjutant, Brandt.
*Himmler actually uses the curious word ‘Anhaltelage’ which could be taken to mean ‘holding camp’, possibly being
used here euphemistically.
Telno 26 of 7 May 1945 from SHAEF (Forward) to the Foreign Office says ‘some extraordinary facts have emerged from the Germany party’ [ie to the signatories to the surrender]. According to Jodl, Doenitz had never been appointed by Hitler. He had been concerned in an illegal conspiracy and had attained his present control of what was left of the German machine by a daring coup. Jodl said he [?Doenitz] had Himmler and Goering under arrest. (The writer, Steel, goes on to describe how Jodl behaved with great dignity and made a good impression. He was permitted a short speech at the close of the proceedings which Steel found ‘very moving’, a comment which appals someone in the Foreign Officers. ‘Jodl’s utterance may have been moving,’ the commentator writes, but ‘it struck me as being quite fantastic and only another example of the German’s absolute inability to see himself as others see him. If we begin to weeping over the Germans at the very moment of defeat, what’s going to happen to us all? What alarms me about this telegram is that Mr Steel doesn’t seem to see anything at all odd in it all,’. Beneath this another hand has written: ‘I mentioned this to Mr Steel yesterday,’.
Research undertaken in 2003 for Dr David Irving by Hugo Haig-Thomas
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